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Libyan Newswire

Why can’t America just take out Assad?

SyriaWhy can’t America just take out Assad?

By David Alpher

Published 9 April 2017

As costly as Western inaction in Syria has been in the six years since the Arab Spring uprisings first took hold in Syria, recent history suggests that removing Assad in a hurry would be an even bigger mistake. Unlike in a game of chess, in war removing the king is not the end, but only another beginning. Targeting Assad would likely give birth to the same kind of catastrophe we saw in Libya after Muammar Gaddafi’s fall. In Libya, with no true civil governance to hold the structure together, tribal alliances collapsed and a four-way fight for power emerged. Assad shouldn’t remain in power – he’s been proving that for six years. The recent Sarin gas attack is only the most recent on a long list of other human rights violations. But he should be part of a political and legal process that removes him. That process must come from the Syrians themselves, not from the outside.

The Trump administration has done an abrupt about-face on Syria, contradicting its own nascent foreign policy. Within twenty-four hours, it went from calling out the Assad regime for using chemical weapons to launching missiles at military targets. As limited as the strikes were, there are also statements that plans are in the works to target Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: It “would seem there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said of Assad on 6 April.

As costly as inaction has been in the six years since the Arab Spring uprisings first took hold in Syria, recent history suggests that removing Assad in a hurry would be an even bigger mistake. In sixteen years studying and working with complex conflicts like Syria, I have yet to see an exception to this rule.

We know where this goes next
Targeting Assad would likely give birth to the same kind of catastrophe we saw in Libya after Muammar Gaddafi’s fall. In Libya, with no true civil governance to hold the structure together, tribal alliances collapsed and a four-way fight for power emerged. It continues even now, accented by a growing presence of the Islamic State. The power vacuum that would follow the sudden and unwise removal of Assad could be worse than the current warfare, and nourish the already fertile growing conditions for violent extremist and paramilitary actors.

Assad shouldn’t remain in power – he’s been proving that for six years. The recent Sarin gas attack is only the most recent on a long list of other human rights violations. But he should be part of a political and legal process that removes him. That process must come from the Syrians themselves, not from the outside. His departure should be negotiated with Syrian civil society leadership to legitimize the claim to power of a civilian government. Justice for his crimes should be served by Syrian courts.

Here’s why:

Nature abhors a vacuum: Unlike in a game of chess, in war removing the king is not the end, but only another beginning. The idea that Syria still exists as it looks on the map is a fantasy. Part of its territory is held by the government, part is lost to the Islamic State, part of it is in rebel hands. It won’t come cleanly back together should the fighting suddenly end tomorrow.

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